Post-holiday remorse

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Opening gifts is a ton of fun. Opening the resulting bills is not. Yet every holiday season millions of consumers use their credit cards to finance gifts they don't have the cash to pay for.

About the second week of January, those bills will start rolling in and a strong case of post-holiday remorse will begin to set in. When faced with the post-holiday blues, debt can seem insurmountable. To help you get a handle on the situation, consider the following advice.

·Realize that there are only two legal ways out of debt -- cutting expenses or increasing your income. Decide which works for you and truly commit to it.

·Create a damage sheet. List the names of your creditors, amount owed each and current interest rates, then total it all up. Update that sheet monthly and tape it wherever you will see it regularly.

·Create a budget and a repayment plan. Track your expenses for one month so that you can be sure every expense is included.

·Periodic expenses can break a budget so allocate an hour each Sunday to address your finances. Staying on top of your expenses will help you stay in budget.

·Shelve your credit cards. Take them out of your wallet and leave them at home. In fact, store them with your damage sheet to remind you of your balances. If you have to use credit, don't charge anything you can't pay off within 90 days.

·Pay off the credit cards with the highest interest rates first.

·Establish a 2009 holiday savings account so that this holiday season, relying on credit won't be necessary. Factor it in as an expense.

·Take a good hard look at your spending habits. I can't say this often enough -- credit is not an extension of your income!

·If you can't make a dent in your post-holiday debt, consider credit counseling from a reputable source such as Money Management International ( ).

Treat this past year's holiday charges as a learning experience and resolve to do better this year; so that in January 2010, you can focus on starting the new year debt-free.